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NBA Saturday: LaVar Ball Isn’t As Crazy As He Seems

LaVar Ball’s strange marketing methods could prove beneficial for Lonzo and BBB, writes Dennis Chambers.

Dennis Chambers

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So, you want to be a baller?

If so, LaVar Ball has the shoe for you.

Lonzo Ball, a projected top-three NBA draft pick, announced the release of his first signature shoe, the ZO2, on Thursday afternoon. Independent from any major shoe company, the ZO2 will be released under his father’s “Big Baller Brand” line.

There’s just one catch; the shoe costs $495.

Just to put the shoe price into perspective a bit, LeBron James’ debut kicks — the Nike Air Zoom Generation — released in 2003, and they were priced at a reasonable $110. Michael Jordan, the gold standard of basketball sneakers, released his Air Jordan’s with Nike in 1985 for $65 ($147 with 2017 adjusted inflation).

Kobe Bryant didn’t even get his own signature shoe until his second season in the NBA when the Adidas KB8 debuted.

With every major shoe company spurning Ball and his father reportedly because the duo (mainly LaVar) was insisting on a co-branding opportunity for the “BBB,” the elder Ball pulled an unprecedented move by creating an independent signature shoe for his son. But the biggest surprise is the price tag, which is greater than the combination of buying the latest version of James’, Kevin Durant’s, and Steph Curry’s signature models.

While this may seem like an absolute trainwreck of a situation, LaVar may actually be executing one of the best marketing strategies in basketball shoe history.

In an era where advertising is king — Nike alone spent $3.3 billion last year in direct-to-customer marketing, brand events, and sports marketing — LaVar’s name was the number one trend on Twitter, and Big Baller Brand was fourth, just five hours after the ZO2 announcement hit social media. And in terms of marketing, that didn’t cost a penny.

Back in March, USA Today did an interview with the Balls where they discussed their controversial brand idea. LaVar lent some insight to his trailblazing perspective of independent branding.

“That Big Baller Brand,” LaVar said. “A brand is one of the biggest things you can have. And, what happens is, it’s hard work to attain it, so nobody wants to attain it. Not too many people think that far ahead.”

While the bill for the ZO2 may be steep, with LaVar’s exuberant personality and outspoken strategy, some people will purchase the shoe. In fact, Nicekicks.com did some digging on the first day of release and reported that at least 210 pairs of the ZO2, and the ZO2: WET, an autographed version of the shoe priced at $995, sold within the first 24 hours of availability.

All in all, that equates to $157,685 in shoe sales within the first day. While those sales numbers aren’t breaking any records — Nike sold 446,000 pairs of Air Jordans in the first month, grossing $66 million equated to today’s inflation, according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell — to independently gross that amount without any marketing besides a release video and a couple of tweets is impressive.

Plus, at such a high price, it would take fewer sales to turn high grossing revenue.

What the Big Baller Brand’s success really hinges on, however, is the success of Lonzo’s NBA career. Currently, Lonzo is projected as the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA draft by DraftExpress.com. Should the UCLA product burst onto the pro basketball scene in the same way he did the college basketball scene, his signature shoe would presumably only increase in popularity and value.

When asked on ESPN Radio’s Dan Le Batard Show about the price of the shoe, LaVar got right to the point.

“I figure that’s what the shoe is worth. When you are your own owner you can come up with any price you want,” he said.

One step further, in the face of internet criticism, the “Big Baller” himself took to Twitter to deliver a message about his creation’s availability:

Another 22 thousand retweets of free publicity.

In a year’s time, LaVar and his brand went from a relative unknown to plastered all over the internet. By making his outlandish comments across sports debate shows, which include his claim that he could beat Jordan in a game of one-on-one, LaVar has shown the ability to attract eyeballs.

With social media’s prominence in 2017, free marketing and all the eyeballs you could want are there for the taking.

So, should Lonzo take the NBA by storm and the ZO2 takes flight from the internet to shoe store shelves across America, LaVar could effectively rewrite the book on brand marketing.

Going rogue from a major shoe company to begin a career in basketball is unchartered waters for a player as distinguished as Lonzo. But, as LaVar himself has said before, “Hey, the taxi industry wasn’t ready for Uber, either.”

While the ZO2 price may be crazy, LaVar is making calculated moves that aren’t quite as crazy as they may seem.

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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